- Photo: Steven McKeown, Bald Knob Cross of Peace
An appeals court has ruled against an Illinois atheist who sued the state for granting state funds to repair a large cross noted as a major tourist attraction.
The Seventh Circuit United States Court of Appeals rejected Robert Sherman's challenge that the $20,000 sent to Friends of the Cross to repair the 111-foot Bald Knob Cross of Peace at Alto Pass was a violation of the Establishment Clause.
According to the three-judge panel, the Illinois Legislature did not directly allocate the funds to Friends of the Cross, as the money came from a $5 million "pork-barrel" fund for individual legislators. The Court reasoned that since there was no direct legislative act connected to the money, Sherman lacked standing to sue.
"A patronage-based process like the one apparently used in Illinois is a far cry from the type of 'specific congressional appropriations' that is analogous to the challenge," wrote the panel.
"Sherman has no standing to challenge the Department's grant in the first instance, nor can he seek to compel Friends to return the disbursement."
In an interview with The Christian Post, Sherman felt that although his challenge to the grant failed, he believed the suit would discourage the Illinois Legislature from taking similar action in the future.
"The Appellate Court said that they are bound by previous Supreme Court decisions which say that citizens have no legal recourse when the government violates your constitutional rights," said Sherman.
"However, as a result of my challenge to this blatantly unconstitutional grant, the Illinois General Assembly is far less likely to make future unconstitutional grants to advance religion with atheist money."
The Bald Knob Cross of Peace was erected in 1963 and had its major restoration completed in 2010. Standing at 111-feet tall, the white cross prominently stands on a hill overlooking Shawnee National Forest.
The $20,000 in state funds given to Friends of the Cross for refurbishing the cross came from Democratic Illinois State Senator Gary Forby. On his website, Forby has emphasized the need to look after the state's major tourist destinations.
"[L]et me say that I believe we need to find a way to keep state parks open and available to the public –and do it in a way that won't keep people away from the many parks here in Southern Illinois," said Forby.
"If we all work together, I'm sure we can find a way to keep Southern Illinois state parks the great tourist attractions and family destinations [the way] they have always been."
Regarding whether or not he was going to appeal, Sherman told CP that he was looking more towards trying to overturn the Supreme Court decisions that formed the basis for the decision in his challenge.
"There is no reason to ask for an en banc review by the Seventh Circuit, because the Judge accurately related how the Seventh Circuit is bound by previous Supreme Court precedent," said Sherman.
"I would like to appeal to the Supreme Court to demonstrate that the previous cases were wrongly decided because those decisions provide both the legislative and executive branches of government with a simple road map for getting away with defying the Constitution with impunity."
Friends of the Cross did not return a request for comments by press time.